Should I Call You? Text You? Facebook Message? Eh, Forget It.

I read with interest this blog post about people who do not do e-mail:

In our recent conversation, [my friend] said that she find writing emails very uncomfortable. When she opens a newsy email, she feels paralyzed, and she is utterly unable to respond. Another friend expressed a very similar response to long newsy emails. She said they make her feel completely frozen and she can’t think of anything to write in response.

...This email conundrum reminded me of our two sons, neither of whom live near us. One son loves to talk on the telephone or by Skype, and the other son hates those two means of communication. Our second son blogs and sends emails, so we are in touch with him, but he has never liked talking on the phone to us or to his friends.

The proliferation of social media and technology makes ministry (and life in general) easier and more complicated at the same time. It's fantastic to address a quick issue with a text message exchange. I receive lovely e-mails from church members, opening up about pastoral stuff they would never say face to face.

My general rule is that I rarely "downgrade" my responses. If someone calls me, I don't send a text message in response. Occasionally, if it's truly a quick answer, or time sensitive and all I have time for is a text (e.g. kid bedtime), I will and be done with it. But I have also regretted it a couple of times, when I failed to discern that there was an emotional need there, underneath the ministry question. The person felt dismissed by the text. In fact, we may need to "upgrade" the response (answering e-mail with a phone call, answer phone with face to face) in order to model good communication skills and get to the heart of the matter.

Moving beyond ministry, if we have faraway friends and family we want to keep in touch with, we should make an effort to learn what their preferred medium is. Sort of like love languages. We can't always honor their preferences, and each of us has our own preferred modes of communication. But taking their own comfort and preferences into account is the hospitable thing to do.

I take a three-day tech Sabbath from social media every week. My mother really doesn't like it because she likes knowing what's going on in my life. This puzzled me at first---why don't you just call or text if you want to know what's going on? Now I make an effort to keep in touch with her in other ways during that time. When I was in Minnesota I sent her a daily e-mail update, which was good for me (gave me a chance to look back on my day) and for both of us (I enjoyed getting her responses, which shared deeper info than she puts on Facebook).

I recently asked folks on Facebook whether phone conversations are on their way out. Many people admitted that they don't like the phone or use it much anymore. I sometimes feel awkward on the phone, particularly when it comes to ending the conversation. (Have I kept them too long? Am I getting off too abruptly?) But on balance, it's a positive in my book. There is no substitute for hearing the other person's voice. By contrast, a friend of mine says her college-age daughter will have long conversations with her significant other via text. It slows them down, she says. It allows them to say things that they would find it harder to say face to face. As a writer, I appreciate that the written word has this power. (I also know that that power, combined with anonymity/physical distance, can provide a means of harming others. It happened to me just this week, in fact.)

Then there's Google+. I really like the way it works, and often feel completely 'done' with Facebook. Except that I have dear friends there. But it depends on how you understand the purpose of social media. If it's a way of keeping in touch with loved ones, then you will keep doing it. If it's a means of recreation and conversation---a cocktail party, if you will---you can have a more "bloom where you're planted" mentality.

I know I will not keep up with both long-term. So I think about whether it makes sense to go with Google+, cancel or suspend use of my Facebook account, and keep up with my closest FB friends in other ways. One of the complications of this technology is that the idea of "seasons of friendship" is becoming obsolete---the idea that a friend is a friend in a particular time and place and maybe not forever. With social media, you need never lose touch again!

I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Then again, long-time friendships are precious.

What do you think about all this?